Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

An article and event came together in happy synchronicity this week. The resultant combination made me consider the true meaning of the word 'collaboration'. A look at the dictionary tells me:

1. to work together with another or others on something.
2. derogatory to co-operate or collude with an enemy, especially one occupying one’s own country.

The FT article on ‘the dangers of a rising C-level for the business environment’ (8/12/14) caught my eye because of its stress on assertiveness training for team members. The author takes a humorous look at the proliferation of chiefs – his ‘c’ word - in the business environment and the dangers of perceived infallibility. He outlines the importance of knowing one’s limits and working within systems, ensuring the smooth running of corporate machinery. He concluded that the real ‘c’ word was ‘colleagues’.

My alternative ‘c’ word was discussed during a recent knowhow event called ‘The future for Legal KIM: An Outside/In perspective’. Martin White and Paul J Corney set up a meeting where they shared their experience with us, the senior knowledge and information managers in law firms. We covered many areas including knowledge capture, the changing legal market, Henry the Navigator, as well as collaboration.

We discussed collaborative tools; the types which if used effectively make working across time zones, offices and teams much easier. The plethora of choices that we are offered by our knowledge and information providers is supposed to be helpful. We can choose between SharePoint, Google Drive, and have access to all the tech in the world. But they pointed out that these tools are not the solution and companies can sometimes be too equipment driven.

Although Andrew Hill in the FT specifically mentioned reliance on mechanical processes in the context of risk, eg., aviation disasters and medical crises, there is no reason to doubt that mindlessness can also be induced by over-reliance on collaboration tools. For instance today I saw a twitter example of a poor unfortunate who'd lost months of work because someone had confused save as and save. Clearly, that mindlessness was going to cost their company dearly.

I’m not suggesting that people should pick up the phone every time they save a document, or schedule a meeting to discuss matters when it is plainly not required, but people need to know and recognise the positive meaning of the word collaborate. However to work together is not always easy when group dynamics come into play; agendas, petty politicking, secrecy, personal tensions, all of these can affect the corporate machine.

Taking these two sources; empowering the team to work as a single component, and the reality of individuals truly working as such, are two sides of the same coin. The two speakers didn't offer any solutions to ensuring the right group dynamics, or how to recruit collaboration personas, mainly because I think it's impossible to do over an entire company all the time.

Even when you have a moment when everyone is pulling together, whether a military operation, in an operating theatre, an emergency landing, or on a complex piece of litigation, such concentrated effort is too intense to sustain for long periods of time. In an office environment, personally, I feel that any longer than a month or so and the dynamics will shift, and there will be a drop off in collaborative spirit. Of course this may be overly pessimistic so feel free to correct me.

The best that our chiefs can hope for is for their colleagues to collaborate occasionally, more in the first sense of the word, than in that second sense. 

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

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